Spatial Characteristics and the Non-Hierarchical Nature of Regional Religious Systems (RRSs)

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Based on the spatial analysis and GIS modeling of the distribution of religious sites in Greater China, we have developed the concept of regional religious systems (RRSs) as a novel way of understanding and studying the spatial distribution patterns of religious sites and their relationship with other social and cultural factors. This essay further explores theoretical issues such as its center–periphery relations in existing administrative and economical hierarchies. Drawing on our current project on RRSs in the Hangzhou region and various available studies about pre-modern Chinese religion, the author explains the spatial characteristics of RRSs, such as the role of transportation, trade and pilgrimage routes in the formation of RRSs. Using Chinese Buddhism as an example, the author argues that RRSs in Greater China should be treated as a spatial formation without an internal hierarchical structure because the political and administrative hierarchy prevents the formation of a strong religious hierarchy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number85
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • administrative system
  • center–periphery relationship
  • economic system
  • Greater China
  • hierarchy
  • macro-region
  • regional religious systems
  • William Skinner

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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